Things have never been better for fans of superhero movies, or the studios churning them out as fast as possible. But as the shared universes, the box office takes, and the sheer spectacle continue to grow and grow, there’s one inescapable fact that few fans will even argue: for all our heroes, we’ve got a serious villain problem. Because as much as fans adore their leading men and women, it’s not easy to love a monster, murderer, or villain out for world domination – or feel any satisfaction when they’re put out tp pasture with all the ones who came before.
It’s a problem that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment seem to be tackling in an… unexpected way. Instead of coming up with one relatable, sympathetic, or truly horrifying villain for their Justice League universe, they first decided to bring the Suicide Squad to life – a team consisting entirely of the villains heroes tend to fight. Unorthodox? Absolutely. But according to director David Ayer, it’s the only way to change up a status quo that’s already more than predictable.
In fairness, it seemed like Marvel was going to break new ground with a band of villains or, at the very least, characters whose moral compass wasn’t as resolved as Captain America or Thor’s. Alas, the Guardians of the Galaxy were, despite their attitude or rough language, all lovable Marvel heroes at heart. Still, by the time they were marching toward blockbuster status, DC and WB were already plotting their own team of bad-but-not-evil DC characters, and calling on some heavy hitting talent to lead the charge.
Not only would Will Smith take the lead as a hired killer, with Margot Robbie wreaking manic mayhem (and an Oscar winner taking Joker to even more unhinged territory), but the story would be entrusted to writer/director David Ayer - a man with an eye for the darkest sides of crime, law, and street life.
It’s the kind of team that seems guaranteed to produce something unique, both in the comic book genre and, potentially, the arena of Hollywood A-listers. When we visited the set of Suicide Squad, the studio had yet to decide upon marketing the movie as a story of the “Worst Heroes Ever,” though Ayer had thrown the gauntlet when taking the stage at San Diego Comic-Con and proclaiming that the time had come for “bad vs. evil.” We got the chance to ask him about that description, and just different a comic book movie must be when the lead characters are murderers, thieves, and in some cases, actual monsters.
Ayer didn’t shy away from his claim that fans had probably had enough of “good vs. evil” in their comic book films, explaining that less heroic leads aren’t so much a challenge as an opportunity:
“I mean, you’re talking to the guy who wrote Training Day, so for me it’s not going too far… All these characters are conflicted and complex. And so many times you feel like, in the [comic book movie] genre, they’re trying to inject complexity into what’s a very black and white character. You know, good guys: they’re gonna do the good thing. It’s very easy to get ahead of them in plotting because you always know what the good guy’s going to do. These guys can do anything. They’re not bound by the normal rules, so that’s what makes it so fun to play in this space.”
It’s easy for fans of the comic book genre to see what Ayer is getting at, since even the ‘darkest’ comic book characters like Wolverine are still restricted by the need to do the right thing, or choose good over evil. Even in Marvel’s Civil War, the claims in marketing that heroes would fight, and fans would have to "choose a side" was all to build excitement around a film in which... well, nobody was 'wrong,' and concluded in a stalemate, with smiles all around.
Even Batman, a more complex character than usual in Dawn of Justice gave in to paranoia and anger with the audience well aware that he would see the light by the end of the film (since the evil being fought was the real villain of the story, not the heroes at odds).
By framing the story around villains – as in, people justly incarcerated for past crimes, past bad decisions, or a physiological attraction to violence – the assumptions about what is and isn’t possible go out the window. Sure, we can still assume that some of the team will be more ‘antihero’ than villain (walking, talking, and acting like a villain, except serving good over evil) but Ayer isn’t just talking about the audience’s expectations – he’s including those of the enemies they face.
When this team of psychopaths, pyromancers, cannibals and killers is thrown into battle against the forces of the recently-revealed ‘Adversary,’ how does the villain plan? If done correctly, it sounds like the characters will have as little idea of what’s coming next as the audience. And already, the need to keep fans guessing (and fatigue at bay) is becoming a priority. It’s not only at DC, either: as the WWI-era Wonder Woman enters post-production, so too does Marvel’s Doctor Strange, both expected to avoid the trappings of yet another origin story sending a solo hero into a team-up event film.
But even if the heroes become unpredictable (and actually complex to their very core), the villains – or the people they’re opposing, at least - will need to rise up alongside them. And as compelling as it may be to see heroes duke it out, audiences need some sense of suspense or risk. Which means newer, better villains are mandatory.
We have high hopes that David Ayer’s thoughts on the current villain problem in the genre means he’s come up with a solution. And judging by the sneak peek we got at the enemies of Suicide Squad, the fight will be dark, weird, gross, and above all, refreshing:
“They’re pretty disturbing… yeah, they’re really disturbing. It’s hard to come up with bad guys, and it’s hard to come up with creatures. I mean, I think it’s one of the most difficult things, and if you look at modern development in film… it’s brutal. You want to do something fresh, yet, I also want to do something very specific to this world and unique. And I think we kind of nailed it. It’s sort of related to the bad guy stuff and the bad guy stuff is very much a sealed, locked box.”
We can confirm that the enemy forces of the movie are something out of a nightmare, even if the nature of the ‘Adversary’ is still being kept under wraps (although we have some theories of our own). It’s possible that Suicide Squad may only push the genre in the right direction, or fall in the same trappings of the “brutal” villain stories Ayer admits are difficult to avoid. We can only hope that the moral shortcomings and criminal tendencies of the main characters can stand up to the demands of the genre. If not for the Squad, then the many shared universes no doubt watching closely.
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.